MERIDEN — “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor,” Paul Simon sang sometime long ago, before high school football teams were playing the Kansas Tiebreaker in overtime, or under Friday night lights, for that matter.
But the song sure comes to mind as Southington and Maloney play musical chairs with the top spot in the state poll.
One week after Maloney knocked Southington from No. 1 with a 31-28 overtime win over the Blue Knights, the Spartans gave it right back with a 28-21 overtime loss to Glastonbury on Thursday, their first loss since the 2021 season opener and one that snapped a school-record 20-game winning streak.
OT giveth, OT taketh, and the gallery gods who vote in the GameTime CT state media poll have put the Blue Knights back on top and relegated the Spartans to No. 4.
It’s not exactly a unanimous No. 1, though. Far from it. More voters cast No. 1 ballots for 9-0 West Haven (10) than 8-1 Southington (8).
Four others went with 8-1 Greenwich. (Greenwich, you will recall, was No. 1 until Southington came from behind to win 29-28 in overtime in Greenwich on Sept. 24.)
The coaches who vote in the Day of New London poll have an even different take. All but two have West Haven at No. 1, and the two dissenting votes were given to No. 2 Greenwich and No. 4 St. Joseph.
Southington is No. 3 with the coaches and Maloney is No. 5.
And, on that note, enough about the polls. The only ones that matter are the ones that come out after the state championships are decided on Dec. 10.
Coaches will be reminding their players of that fact as they prepare for the regular-season finales, most which play Thanksgiving morning or the night before.
A remarkable number of them will pit rivals with robust records. A remarkable number will, therefore, shape the postseason fields.
This is true of the 64th Stoddard Bowl between Maloney and Platt and it is true of the 26th Apple Classic between Southington and Cheshire.
The teams are a combined 28-8. Southington and Maloney are both 8-1. Platt and Cheshire are both 6-3.
All four are in playoff contention. If the season were to end right now, only Platt, at No. 9 in Class MM, would be on the outside looking in.
Southington and Maloney have pretty much already qualified. This is particulary true for Southington. Among the top eight teams in Class LL, the worst record is 6-3. Then comes a drop to 4-5 Ridgefield at No. 9.
So the Class LL card is booked. It’s just a matter of who dances with whom. Southington, at No. 3 in the points behind Greenwich and West Haven, will be looking to wrap up a home date.
“There is a lot of parity,” Southington running back Lincoln Cardillo said of the Class LL field after torching Conard for 247 yards on Thursday night. “We’ll be looking for a home game (in the playoffs), but we have to focus on Cheshire and take care of business.”
Ditto for Maloney, which dropped to No. 5 in Class L, a meat-grinder of a division that features five 8-1 teams: St. Joe’s, Naugatuck, Newtown, New Canaan and the defending champion Spartans, in that order.
Then comes a clump of 6-3 clubs clamoring for the final three spots, led by … Cheshire at No. 6.
The Rams scored a pivotal victory Saturday, shutting out Xavier 26-0. Coming off a 34-14 loss to Shelton, the Rams treated Xavier like a playoff game, looked at it as a must-win, and responded with a dominant performance.
They switched to a sophomore at quarterback, Aniston Marsh, and found myriad ways to get the ball into the hands of dynamic playmaker Matt Jeffery, who produced receiving and rushing touchdowns, plus an INT.
Defense is the backbone of this Cheshire team. Led by ends Evan Russo and Brett Rochford, the Rams posted their third shutout of the season and are allowing just 11 points a game.
This year’s Apple Classic is in Cheshire, where the Rams traditionally play the Blue Knights tough, even during Southington’s current nine-game Thanksgiving winning streak. Cheshire has incentive to not only end that run, but to secure a playoff berth that a win over Southington would guarantee.
And the Blue Knights know it.
“I always tell the guys, ‘One game at a time,’” Southington coach Mike Drury said the night of the Conard win. “Our total focus right now is to transition to Cheshire. They are a very good team, so we know what they are capable of. They’ve played some really good competition, so that is our focus.”
In Meriden, the Spartans and Panthers seldom require extra motivation to take note of each other.
Both will go into the Stoddard Bowl licking wounds. While Maloney was in Meriden falling for the first time in over a year on Thursday night, the Panthers were rallying from a 34-7 deficit in Bloomfield only to fall short, 40-34.
Before Bloomfield scored a late touchdown to win that game, Platt came all the way back to tie, 34-34.
That’s a good sign for the Panthers. They fell behind 34-7 in the second quarter and, rather than just going completely off the rails, got one score back before halftime and then continued to climb back in the second half.
The Panthers will need that sort of resolve and steel in their spine against Maloney. The past two Thanksgivings have been all-Spartans by a 6-1 count. Maloney won 41-7 last year and 42-6 in 2019.
Platt will be looking to reverse that showing and, in the process, climb into what could prove to be a wide-open Class MM tournament field.
To get there, the Panthers will need to leap over No. 8 Windsor. The Warriors are also 6-3 and hold five more bonus points (1,055) to Platt’s 1,050.
Like Platt, Windsor closes with a stiff one: Bloomfield. If both win, it’ll come down to bonus points between the Warriors and Panthers.
First, of course, they’ve got to win. Even when the walls between playoff aspirants are thin, the ceilings and floors between who goes and who stays home are quite thick.
Ron Buck contributed to this story